We Don’t Have Secrets: Secrets Have Us!
‘The Little One’
Many of you who have followed ‘The Purple Jacket’ over the past year or so know that ‘The Purple Jacket’ is a heartfelt account of my Caregiving experience with my partner Richard Schiffer, otherwise known as ‘The Little One’. Diagnosed with esophagus cancer in August of 2011, Richard was given 3 to 4 months to live upon the completion of his chemotherapy and radiation treatments in October of 2011. Now fourteen months past that prediction, ‘TLO’ continues to amaze everyone who has been
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involved in his care. My readers on both ‘The Purple Jacket’ and my extended Caregiving family at Caregiving.com know that we relish each day, and are thankful for the extended stay that we have been granted. We have truly been blessed!
When I started ‘The Purple Jacket’ on my 54th birthday in February 2011, my goal was to talk about my Caregiving experience with my good friend, Fr. Richard Orlando. I started this blog long before ‘TLO’s’ diagnosis, yet this blog has proved to be cathartic, as I have been able to express my feelings and share my emotions in a much more vibrant way than my previous Caregiving experience with Father Orlando.
My very first post in February 2011 can be read in its entirety by clicking here. Here is a snippet of my first post…
“The Purple Jacket” signifies a time in my life that was… And still is…”a life changing event.” We have all had life changing events. Those events often forged from a life crisis are the types of events that fundamentally change our outlook on life and cause us to pause and reflect on our true values. At the time, these life changing events are or can be extremely traumatic. However, these events test our values and often have a cathartic or cleansing effect whereby we emerge from these events stronger and more focused on our values.
First Picture taken in May 1988
My life changing event occurred when we made the decision to live out the rest of his life in our condo in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This was by no means an easy decision as his health in his later years was strife with diabetes, congestive heart failure and the final straw, a broken hip in March of 2002 that shattered his self confidence. I remember the call vividly while in my room at the seminary in Milwaukee that year; ‘I fell and broke my hip, I can’t believe it.’ That was the beginning of the spiral that finally led to us picking up stakes and moving full-time to Florida in July of 2004. My life really has not been the same since.
Last picture taken in October 2005
The 18 months of Caregiving were not without its challenges. The minute we stepped off the plane in Fort Lauderdale we had to head to the hospital as the catheter that was installed upon leaving the nursing home in Rochester was implanted incorrectly. But that experience was a godsend as we ended up connecting with a group of physicians who were excellent and cared for him during our 18 months in Florida. Even in the midst of strife, God was on our side.
Father Orlando was a brilliant man, yet often misunderstood. His vocabulary was legendary, just as his sarcasm. As I said in my eulogy at his funeral mass’ ‘He never had an opinion of his own that he dislike, yet he had unassailable logic. He hated fakery and phoniness; one always knew where they stood with him. He did not know how to beat around the bush; being direct was an art.’ He would have never had been mistaken for Father O’Malley in the bells of St. Mary’s, yet over his 59 years of ministry he had more positive effect on people than he ever understood.
While in Florida, Fr. Orlando was able live a life that was non restrictive. In Rochester, he sat in his room and rarely went out. He coined the facility ‘Prison.’ Like many seniors who are not given a choice on where they want to live as they age, invariably they will learn to resent the environment, no matter how posh the facility might be.
In Florida he was involved in an Adult Day Care Center and was intellectually challenged on a regular basis. He instantly became a leader at the Day Care Center and looked forward to going when he felt up to it. He even celebrated his 58th ordination anniversary while participating at the Adult Day Care Center. But most of all, he was able to live in his own home. One of his life long dreams was to live full-time in Florida. Facilitating his wish was like providing him with extra time for his life.
Amazingly we even got him in our pool at our condo with a little help from our friends. “I never thought I ever do this again” he said while he was in the pool’
Over the 18 years of our friendship he had had two previous near death experiences. We both knew that our trip to Florida would be the last time that he would ever travel. As his primary care physician said to me during our last visit in Rochester, ‘ You know he is never going to get any better, he might as well enjoy himself where he wants to enjoy himself.’
The 18 months caring for him was difficult, meaningful and certainly, beautiful. As secretive as everything had been for years, knowing that I helped facilitate a beautiful sunset to his life, does allow me some consolation.
With his kidneys failing early afternoon on Wednesday January 25 2006, Father Orlando made his peaceful transition at 1:15am on Friday January 27, 2006. Once his kidneys failed, I never got a chance to talk to him again as the doctors administrated morphine to ease any pain. Yet late that afternoon while holding his hand, he rubbed my hand with his thumb three times and squeezed my hand. That was the last communication I had with him before he made his transition. Holding him while he took his last breath, his transition was peaceful. I knew he was going to a better place.
I can still feel him touching my hand today.
On Saturday Morning December 22nd, I will talk publicly for the first time about my Caregiving experience with Father Orlando with Denise Brown from Caregiving.com on her Blog Talk Radio Show, ‘Table Talk.’ The show airs at 10:00 am (EST). I look forward to talking with Denise about how this Caregiving experience and his death has affected my life. Why is this a big deal, because there is no time left for secrets, only beautiful sunsets!
The Perfect Sunset is the start of a long-awaited healing process: thank you for being a part of this journey, we’ve only just touched the surface.
Remember: We Might Have Cancer…But Cancer Does Not Have Us!